My last attempt to escape my apparent fate as a cabinetmaker involved going back to school in the early 1990s. After graduating with a master’s degree in religious studies, I imagined it would be easier to find work that would bring me into contact with people instead of mute material, which I’d consistently found depressing in my woodworking career up to that time. Over a period of four months I sent out employment applications while taking any odd jobs I could get. It was a trying year for the would-be employed in south-central Indiana; listings in the “Help Wanted” section of the local paper included such enticements as “LOOKING FOR A CAREER WITH CHALLENGE? Parkland Pork Enterprises is seeking a Production Manager to oversee all aspects of pork production!” and “TRAIN TO BE A CHILDREN’S ETIQUETTE CONSULTANT: You will join over 600 consultants who are providing the highest quality programs in the United States and abroad.”*
I had a couple of interviews for office work but still had not been hired when I was called to interview for a clerical position in one of the university’s academic departments. The pay was low, but the university offered some of the best working conditions in town. I would spend my days in one of the historic campus buildings, a limestone Tudor originally constructed as a dorm. I could already see myself walking the mile and a half to work each morning, the perfect distance for a pedestrian commute, and eating my lunch of leftovers on the lawn at the center of the quadrangle. I was certainly qualified for the position. All I had to do was show my interest and enthusiasm, which were sincere. I dressed in a nice skirt and blouse and walked to campus feeling confident that this job might well be mine.
When I arrived at the office, the administrative secretary took me into a meeting room and introduced me to the chair, Professor Jameson, who was seated at the head of the table. Standing up, he shook my hand and smiled warmly. “I just had to meet you after reading your résumé,” he began. Things were looking good.
“We’re not going to hire you,” he continued. “You’re seriously overqualified. But I called you here so that I could ask you in person: Why would such a talented and accomplished personal apply for a clerical job?”–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work
*OK, so the real ad, shown above, said 500. This does nothing to minimize the surreal experience of finding such a gem among the job listings. And for those of you who have already read Making Things Work, I agree with you that Nancy Hiller could have learned a lot by attending that school.